Eagles first-round rookie Andre Dillard raised eyebrows last week when he compared having to move from the familiar left tackle position to right tackle for the Seattle game with having to write a perfect essay wrong-handed.
NFL offensive linemen who aren’t starting are expected to be versatile; some can switch sides easily, others are definitely better on one side than the other, but many describe the difference in less dramatic terms.
Against that backdrop, it was not a shock to see Dillard struggle in his debut as a right tackle Sunday, in place of concussed Lane Johnson. Dillard, who played well in three starts at left tackle when Jason Peters was injured, was benched at halftime. The coaching staff moved Halapoulivaati Vaitai from right guard to right tackle and brought Matt Pryor off the bench for his first career offensive snaps at right guard. The line stabilized.
It ought to be much more stable this week at Miami, with Johnson cleared from the concussion protocol and Brandon Brooks back from a bout with his anxiety disorder.
Dillard was asked Tuesday, after actually doing it for 36 snaps, was playing the right side as difficult as he had envisioned?
“Probably harder than that, honestly,” he said. Dillard said overcoming “muscle memory” was his greatest struggle.
Coach Doug Pederson said Monday that Dillard had looked fine in practice and had given no indication that he wasn’t comfortable.
“Practice was still really fast, and I was going against our best dudes, but it’s really something that ain’t easy,” Dillard said.
He said he will move forward from the experience, adding that “I ain’t mad” over being benched.
“It’s a new day. It’s easy to move on from it and learn from it and keep going,” he said. “This whole year’s been a great learning experience for me. I’m grateful to have been in a spot where I can get out there and play, get my feet wet.”
Former Eagles Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas said on Twitter, with accompanying photographic evidence, that Dillard was tipping plays with his stance – one foot back in a pass-block set on pass plays, both feet parallel if the play was going to be a run.
“I’ll probably talk to him about that,” said Dillard, who did not elaborate.
Pryor, a sixth-round pick from TCU in 2018, had lined up for extra points and such but hadn’t played on offense in a game that counted since the 2017 Alamo Bowl against Stanford.
He said he learned at halftime Sunday that was about to change.
Other than a holding call, Pryor said, he thought things went pretty well, though he hadn’t had a chance to speak with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland about that.
“The first couple plays, you’ve got a little rust to scrape off, not having played in a while,” Pryor said.
Pryor practices at four spots -- both tackles, both guards. He said Dillard’s unease was understandable.
“It’s pretty difficult because you’ve got to get your angles down on the opposite side,” he said. “Preseason, I was playing left guard, left tackle, and it took me until the last game to really get the hang of it. Your hands are different, your feet are different, and your vision is really skewed, but once you get that down, your dominant side really improves a lot. I feel like it really helps” to learn both sides.
Unless the NFL implements a new rule giving teams an extra point for trick plays, Jim Schwartz isn’t going to sell out trying to stop them.
“They all count the same," the Eagles’ defensive coordinator said Tuesday. “We’ll try to stop trick plays over everything else if they start counting for seven points instead of six. ... You can go overboard if you try to play too conservatively to stop a trick play, and you’re not going to stop a lot of other stuff.”